‘Sherlock’ spoiler-free review: ‘The Empty Hearse’

The wait is over everyone. After a two-year gap, Sherlock is back for three more devilishly intricate, deliriously fun episodes.

Written by co-creator Mark Gatiss (who also appears as Sherlock’s older brother Mycroft), first episode ‘The Empty Hearse’ sees our curly-haired hero “return from the dead” after two years travelling the world and dismantling Jim Moriarty’s criminal network. Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) comes back to the threat of a terrorist attack on London, which sees him mobilising his troops, dusting off his armchair back at 221b Baker Street and, of course, donning his very best coat once again.

With speculation abounding about how Sherlock faked his death, Watson (Martin Freeman) stung by his best pal’s two-year-long deceit and a London-wide conspiracy to detonate a huge bomb in the works, Holmes has – once again – his fair share to contend with.

In all honesty, the criminal plot unwound in this first episode isn’t the best evidence of Moffat’s and Gatiss’s capacity for complex, original storytelling. When compared to the head-spinning twists and turns of ‘A Scandal in Belgravia’, ‘The Empty Hearse’ seems to have set its sights relatively low.

There’s a nice little mystery surrounding a man disappearing on a tube train, and a brilliant last-minute rescue sequence involving Holmes, Watson and Watson’s new missus Mary (Freeman’s real life partner Amanda Abbington), but ultimately what dominates here – and admittedly what most people will be chomping at the bit to see – is the solution to Holmes’ faked suicide at the end of Season 2. For fear of spoilers, we’ll refrain from saying much on this subject, but it must be said that, though the ‘Reichenbach’ solution is handled in a distinctly unique and clever (read: Moffatian) way, it somewhat engulfs the episode.

Thus, where ‘The Empty Hearse’ truly shines is in the fun that’s had. Sherlock’s reveal to Watson that he is still alive marks a highpoint, with Holmes – in his characteristically sociopathic way – grossly misjudging the situation and using it as an opportunity for comedy.

Indeed, comic moments crop up all over the place (to the extent that we found ourselves yearning for an Odd Couple-style Holmes/Watson sitcom). Particularly enjoyable is the way in which Sherlock’s reappearance is played out through the reactions of Mrs Hudson (Una Stubbs), Lestrade (Rupert Graves) and, of course, Molly (Louise Brealey) – leading to perhaps the best visual gag of the episode in its closing moments.

Having attended to a whole lot of business in ‘The Empty Hearse’, we’re sure that the second episode, ‘The Sign of Three’, will see a return to the mind-boggling, headache-inducing plots that have come to define Sherlock. For now, ‘The Empty Hearse’ marks a thrilling and vastly enjoyable opener to the third season that, by gum, leaves us wanting more.

Airs at 9pm on Wednesday 1 January 2014 on BBC One.

> Order Season 3 on DVD on Amazon.

> Buy the Season 1-2 boxset on Amazon.

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